Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Historical Impressions

I'll always remember my first trip to Mississippi, it was the spring of 1997. I was graduating from high school that year and had applied to various schools. My brother suggested I send in my application to Ole Miss. Who is Ole Miss? What is Ole Miss? The only thing I knew was that my brother played football for Ole Miss briefly and although he transferred back to a school in Texas to graduate there was obviously something special that this place left in his heart. Either he wanted me 700 miles away from home or he truly thought it was a place I needed to experience and make my own. Either way, applying is one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

My mom, my brother and I went to scope it out...we drove. It was far. The only thing I remember about the trip, other than being long, was making a comment my mom always reminds me of. As we drove up I-55 we passed this sign that said Kosciusko next right. I said, Koz-chi-u-sko....what the hell is that? Little did I know within the next 10 years it would be my home!

So we arrived into Oxford. It was night time and we were tired. My first 5 second impression of the town was that it was just alright, small (this was before the west side was developed as you enter town.)

The next morning we headed to the University. This would be my first time setting foot on campus, I still remember that moment all these years later - it was magical. It was lush green, well manicured with gorgeous bright colored tulips everywhere. You could tell the people that took care of this place really cared about it, they took pride in what they have. The air was so pure and fresh that I'm not sure I'd ever felt so alive. It could have been that it was a refreshing change from the 110% humidity of Texas. It doesn't matter what it was, it was memorable.

As we walked the campus it was as if the beautiful old buildings and architecture wanted me to stop and admire it, like it wanted to tell me a story about it's history. I couldn't help but be hypnotized by the beauty, the history, and the tradition this campus exuded. Every person we passed on the sidewalk said hello, all the people were smiling, friends were playing Frisbee in the Grove or having a picnic. It was a fantasy land, it was magical, happy, almost staged. It was surely something I wanted to be a part of and I hadn't even had the opportunity to talk to anyone about the academics. All of this was my first impression.

It started once I was accepted, I was in Texas putting the sticker on my car and sporting my new college t-shirts everyday. I was cool. People would say, what is O'le (Oh-le) Miss? I guess growing up in a highly populated Hispanic area / state they would read Ole as O'le. It was a little frustrating, but I didn't mind because I knew something they didn't. I knew about this magical place that I was going to be able to share about with everyone that didn't know.

A year and half after my initial visit and acceptance I was able to come back to Mississippi. I had been in Ecuador for a year following my high school graduation. I had no idea what tradition, history and pride was until August 1998. I came to a new foreign land, Mississippi, where I was to be taught about the true meaning of tradition. A place where not only would my education could carry me far in life, but the experiences and lessons learned would carry me even further.

My eyes were opened, I learned about the history, triumphs, and tragedy that the state and University had endured. I wasn't brought up in prejudice, I didn't understand the black and white of everything. It appalled me. The most important thing was that it was overcome. The University now stands on the grounds that diversity is key. Diversity, this one word is what prompted my post.

The University has a new Chancellor. I have not had the opportunity to research his back ground nor have I met him, so therefore I am unable to comment on him as a person. He has very large shoes to fill succeeding Chancellor Khayat. This week the new Chancellor decided that the traditional un-official fight song of 'Dixie' be banned from football games and not associated with Ole Miss anymore. Fans sing out that "The South will rise again."

Let's get literal for a moment, do you really think that the current students born in the 1990's truly know, sing or mean this as an offensive chant? Even still, their parents that were born in the 1960's didn't endure the 1962 integration of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. The generation before them did. This generation of alumni is now the University's largest monetary supporters. Even over 40 years after integration they continue to love Ole Miss not because of any racial reasons, but because of the tradition, experiences, family, and sense of pride that they feel. They support Ole Miss because every time they return to Oxford it's a replay of their first stepping foot on campus, it's a sense of ownership.

I was saddened when all the hoopla about Colonel Reb came about. I was not there in 1995 when they banned the Confederate flags. I am however savvy enough to research the history of both Colonel Reb and the flag. Colonel Reb was originally patterned after a blind black man that that was a huge football fan. Did you know that? I personally think it was respectful to him. As for the confederate flag, history proves that this was a battle flag, a flag in a war that blacks fought in too.

Why do we still have to make these things so black and white? I see these things as red and blue. I think by taking away the song 'Dixie' - a song that was written in the 1850's by a Northerner who allegedly collaborated with two black musicians to originate. This is a song admired by the President that abolished slavery.

On 10 April 1865, one day after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, Lincoln addressed a White House crowd:
I propose now closing up by requesting you play a certain piece of music or a tune. I thought "Dixie" one of the best tunes I ever heard . . . I had heard that our adversaries over the way had attempted to appropriate it. I insisted yesterday that we had fairly captured it . . . I presented the question to the Attorney-General, and he gave his opinion that it is our lawful prize .

We should embrace this song. When we say that "the South will rise again" to me in current culture means that we've overcome this feudal past. We rise above all the hatred, close mindedness and energy wasted removing the traditions that are too often misconstrued. The close mindedness if you will.

Being from Texas, I once was asked by a Mississippian if we really ride horses everywhere. My response to show his ignorance was that I was really surprised that he as a Mississippian had running water, electricity and shoes on his feet. Perception and interpretation is what you make of things. If you want to see that Ole Miss stands for racial bigotry, a group of close minded people stuck in old ways holding a grudge against change, so be it. Yet you, my comrade, are the one that hasn't stepped foot on campus. You are the individual that deserves to taste the fresh air an campus that brings you to life. You should allow yourself to let the history ridden walls of the University talk to you. You have not experienced pride, tradition, and history. As hard as it may be to hear you should probably open your eyes to realize maybe you are the problem.

As with all aspects of life you can see the good and bad in everything. I choose to be open minded and educated on facts before I form an opinion. I'm the big picture type of person. We can always try to agree to disagree as hard as it may be.

Dixie might be taken away, briefly or for forever from future Ole Miss fans and alum but the tradition and pride is still in all of us. We won't be able to 'Look away!' from what we know and hold dear to our hearts, nor should we have to.

Hotty Toddy.


Anonymous said...

Damn, that was beautiful!

Anonymous said...


The Yates Family said...

You wrote this so beautifully and with such heart! I am sure every Rebel fan would agree with you! (that says alot coming from a BAMA fan!!!haha!!!)
You really should email this to the chancellor or the board or something...let them see an alumn's never know...YOU might have the key words that HOLD the tradition together!!!


Shea said...

Amen sista! I agree that you should definitely email this to the was beautiful. I was so sad when I heard that he was taking away From Dixie With Love. Every football game morning when I lived in the DG house, someone would play "Slow Dixie" over the intercom, and you knew it was going to be a good day (win or lose). That song was the reason for getting to the football game early. That song is a song that gives me chills every time I hear it and always will. I'm going to the game this weekend, and even though I'm excited, I'm already sad because I know it just won't be the same without it.

Anonymous said...

A lifelong friend from MS sent your blog to me. This makes me sad that Ole Miss would do away with Dixie. You have eloquently stated the ambiance of Ole Miss.

I am a liberal who has resided in California for over 30 years. I am a 1977 graduate of Ole Miss. Before that, I was a 1974 graduate of Kosciusko High School and a transplanted “Yankee” from Ohio in 1970.

I was 8 years old the day President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember saying to myself that day that when I grow up I am going to ask what I can do for my country, not what my country can do for me.

Today, just like you I take my stand for Dixie!

My children are now grown women and I am proud to say they do not have prejudice bone in the body. From the time they were babies I sang Dixie to them and I told them of the importance of my old times there in the 70's that should never be forgotten.

My children have never been to Mississippi and only see it through my eyes. To them, the song of Dixie is about a time in Mississippi history when the voices of black and white children joined together and told Senators and Congressmen not to stand in the doorways and not to block the halls. Racial intolerance would not be tolerated in their generation’s society.

To my children, Dixie has never been a song about the Civil War. It has always been a song about Civil Rights and Civil Justice.

Old Times In Dixie Not To Be Forgotten:

1961 James Meredith, resident of Attala County, applied to Ole Miss.

1963 James Meredith was the first black man to graduate from Ole Miss.

1964 Three young civil rights workers killed near Philadelphia, MS. thirty miles from Kosciusko.

1970 KHS integrated (my first year to live there)

1971 KHS got its first black cheerleader, Annie Ruth Winters. I was on the squad, so they got their first Yankee cheerleader, too.

1971 Superior Coach of Kosciusko did away with having 3 restrooms
designated one male, one female, and one way in the back of the
manufacturing facility for “Coloreds”.

1972 My Kosciusko dentist's office did away with having two waiting rooms of one in the front for Whites and one in the back for the "Negros".

1972 Kosciusko HS senior boys rented a Sugar Shack on the dirt road of Oprah Winfrey’s birth just outside of Kosciusko ($25 p/mo)

1972-1974 On rare occassion a black football player might come to the Sugar Shack for a short visit.

1974 I was head cheerleader at Kosciusko HS, we then had two black cheerleaders, Annie Ruth’s little sister and Shirley Simpson.

1973-1974 First black fraternities and sororities were established at Ole Miss

1975 I remember watching TV in New Dorm. Black people were starting to be in commercials. George and Weezie Jefferson were “movin’on up to the East Side”

1976-1977 Lots of black football players at lots of parties at Billy H’s house at Ole Miss. (Billy was a 1973 KHS graduate and was an avid patron of the Sugar Shack)

Dec 31, 1977, I moved to California, got married, raised children and told them frequently about the old times of Kosciusko, Ms and Ole Miss in the 60’s and 70’s.

I did this because I wanted my children and my children’s children to know the history of how this country went from slavery to electing a black man to the highest office in the land - not from what they would dryly read in history books. I wanted them to know that young people can make their generation’s society be whatever they want to be. I wanted them to know that they should never look away from social injustices. I wanted them to know the history of how an eggregious social injustice was undone with the young people of Mississippi playing a key role in the change.

Dixie by Bob Dylan:

Bob Dylan, 1964, The Times They Are A Changin;

Thank you for your beautiful writing. It touched my heart for Dixie.

Mrs. Sharon Noonan Kramer

Rachel said...

Dear Mrs. Kramer,
Thank you so much for your comment. I have received a lot of personal emails from my post, all positive. Seemingly I'm not the only one who feels this way.

As you remembered saying to yourself, "ask what I can do for my country, not what my country can do for me."

We have to do the same when it comes to all the things we love and take ownership of, not just our country. In this situation our alma mater needs us to do something. Ole Miss gave us something, gave us an education, gave us a sense of culture and experiences we carry....that's what it did for us. Now what can we do for it?
We can try to make sure that it's history, it's tradition, it's ambiance, it's story be kept in tact.

Maybe I'm over reacting, my post is not solely focused on Dixie being taken away, it focused on what close minded, uneducated, nay sayers take away from us.

Some say it's just a song. Personally speaking it is the only song that makes tears well up in my eyes and sends chills all over my body when the Ole Miss marching band plays it before each football game. People can call me traditional, that's fine, but to call me prejudice...that's not ok.

When I head to the game on Saturday I feel as though I will be a part of history. The first time I know without Dixie. It's sad. As though there has been a death in the family.

Again, I appreciate your comment. May Dixie live on through your generation, your childrens generation, my generation and my son in utero.